New Books in Science

Interviews with Scientists about their New Books

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episode 16: Emily Lakdawalla, "The Design and Engineering of Curiosity: How the Mars Rover Performs Its Job" (Springer, 2018)


Emily Lakdawalla talks about the design and construction of Curiosity, formally known as the Mars Science Laboratory, one of the most sophisticated machines ever built. Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 where it has been conducting research within the ancient Gale Crater.

This book describes the most complex machine ever sent to another planet: Curiosity. It is a one-ton robot with two brains, seventeen cameras, six wheels, nuclear power, and a laser beam on its head. No one human understands how all of its systems and instruments work. This essential reference to the Curiosity mission explains the engineering behind every system on the rover, from its rocket-powered jetpack to its radioisotope thermoelectric generator to its fiendishly complex sample handling system. Its lavishly illustrated text explains how all the instruments work -- its cameras, spectrometers, sample-cooking oven, and weather station -- and describes the instruments' abilities and limitations. It tells you how the systems have functioned on Mars, and how scientists and engineers have worked around problems developed on a faraway planet: holey wheels and broken focus lasers. And it explains the grueling mission operations schedule that keeps the rover working day in and day out.

Lakdawalla is a senior editor at the Planetary Society where she writes and blogs about planetary exploration. She is a frequent guest on Planetary Radio. She is also the author of The Design and Engineering of Curiosity: How the Mars Rover Performs Its Job (Springer, 2018).




Michael F. Robinson is professor of history at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. He's the author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2006) and The Lost White Tribe: Scientists, Explorers, and the Theory that Changed a Continent (Oxford University Press, 2016). He's also the host of the podcast Time to Eat the Dogs, a weekly podcast about science, history, and exploration.




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 2019-08-30  34m